November 26, 2016

India to Have More Than 670 Million Mobile Broadband Connections by 2020

According to a new report published by the GSMA, India is the second largest mobile market in the world with 616 million unique users, almost half of the country's population, subscribed to mobile services at the end of June 2016. The report, The Mobile Economy India 2016, further says: "Improving affordability, falling device prices and better network coverage aided by operator investment will help deliver over 330 million new unique subscribers by 2020, taking the penetration rate to 68%."

The report is segmented into four chapters: India mobile market overview; Economic contribution of the mobile industry; Digital India: delivered through mobile broadband; and Reforming to accelerate mobile broadband adoption.

Infographic: GSMA
In addition to the information above regarding India's mobile market, the report explains that India is "seeing an ongoing technology shift to mobile broadband services." Moreover, "With a gradual reduction in data tariffs and growing availability of affordable smartphones for consumers, the mobile broadband connection base is forecast to reach more than 670 million by 2020. By this date, almost half of the total connections will run over mobile broadband networks. There is also an accelerating move to 4G, with the 4G connection base forecast to grow rapidly, from just 3 million at the end of 2015 to 280 million by 2020."

Infographic: GSMA
Regarding the mobile industry's contribution to India's economy, "the mobile industry was responsible for 6.5% of India’s GDP" in 2015, "a contribution that amounts to more than INR9 lakh crore ($140 billion) of economic value added." In addition, "Mobile operators and the ecosystem provided direct employment to approximately 2.2 million people in India across both the organized and unorganized sectors, while approximately 1.8 million jobs were indirectly supported. The mobile ecosystem also makes a highly significant contribution to the funding of the Indian public sector, with approximately INR1.4 lakh crore ($21 billion) in 2015."

The chapter titled "Building Digital India through mobile broadband" begins by noting: "The Indian government’s Digital India initiative was launched in 2015 and aims to utilize the potential of digital technologies to address some of the significant socioeconomic challenges in the country." The report continues to explain that "the initiative looks to empower 1 billion subscribers by providing internet access to all."

Furthermore, "Digital India has three key focus areas and nine pillars. Digital India will be delivered over mobile broadband, given the lack of alternative (fixed line) infrastructure, high levels of mobile ownership in the country and ongoing significant investment by operators to further build out networks and bring affordable services to the country's population."

Regarding the report's final chapter on how policy and regulatory reform can help boost mobile broadband, "Review and reform in three key areas would accelerate mobile broadband access and adoption across the country:
  • India will benefit by adapting regulation to the realities of the new digital ecosystem. Obligations tied to a specific technology, rather than the service provided, distort the market, preventing operators from competing equally with other digital market players.
  • Mobile operators in India carry significant debt as a result of the high prices for spectrum, administrative fees and levies. Reductions of these costs would free resources and foster an atmosphere conducive to investment, which is needed to keep pace with network expansion and improvements to achieve the goals of Digital India.
  • To cater for rising mobile broadband adoption, India should commit to the spectrum bands supported at WRC-15. More importantly, India needs to allocate the 470–698 MHz band for IMT in order to boost mobile broadband and the broader digital economy."
Similar to China over the past few years, Indians will quickly gain access to information and value-added services via smartphones and tablets as a result of an expanding mobile broadband infrastructure. With a growing mobile industry, coupled with policy and regulatory reform, India could become an important market for mobile network operators, cloud storage providers, manufacturers of mobile devices and related network components, and developers of localized software optimized for mobile devices. While my colleagues and I are not actively engaged in the Indian market as of the date of this post, it is a matter of when, not if, we begin doing business in the world's second largest mobile market.

What are your thoughts about the GSMA report? Do you have any recommendations about doing business in India?

Aaron Rose serves as President and CEO of ROI3, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based company that empowers people in emerging economies through innovative, technology-based solutions. He is also the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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